There is an expansive effort to create a steady sense of joy in the carefully constructed paper weavings and enamel paintings of Michelle Grabner. Her work feels steeped in the rhythms of ritual and dailiness, thoroughly tended to and loved, like a garden or a family. Count every strip of paper and modulated dot of paint—of which there are many thousand—and you get the impression that we are witness to a tabulation of blessings.
Grabner pulls her abstractions from the patterns of domestic life—the plaids of kitchen dishtowels or the zigzags and crocheted squares of the handmade baby blanket—then translates them into formally rigorous, allover compositions. The paper weavings are arranged like offerings on low plinths, vulnerable to dust, dirt, and human clumsiness. They are polychromatic and buoyant, reminiscent of Johannes Itten’s color studies, and carry a devotional charge not too unlike the craftwork of Shaker quilts or gift drawings, products of not-idle hands, that are meant to bring one closer to God.
The blanket paintings are autumnal, melancholic. They are sisters to the candy-hued versions that the artist made in the 1990s, when her now adult children were just babies. The yellows, oranges, and varieties of red are still there—they show up in the smaller works, but they’re paler, leaner, cooler, and in certain instances, quite occluded. The larger paintings are primarily grisaille, many covered with swarms of dun enamel spots, which give the surfaces the look of aged skin. But let’s not misunderstand—the countenance of a long and fulfilling life is always beautiful.
I missed “Act I” of this exciting group show curated by Prem Krishnamurthy and Carin Kuoni, but traces of the eleven-day installation by HOWDOYOUSAYYAMINAFRICAN? remain in the gallery for “Act II,” on view now. The walls are still painted black, and an edit of the art collective’s timely, twenty-four-channel video piece The Wayblack Machine, 2014, plays on a single monitor. It’s a moving montage of material culled from news sources and social media about the police killing of unarmed black teenager Mike Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, on August 9. Art’s turnaround time doesn’t often allow for immediate responses to world events, so it’s satisfying to see something made with such apparent urgency on the fly. Slideshows of newly iconic photos—protestors’ hands up in defiant poses of surrender, teargassed faces, tanks—are interspersed with digitally animated tweets that swirl into hashtagged gibberish.
The YAMS installation was billed as the launch for a new Internet archive, thewayblackmachine.net, but that URL takes you to a low-res splash page, a dead end. Maybe the radical project of building a digital repository for the documentation of “activism around black embodiment,” as the press release reads, is a kind of joke, purely conceptual—or speculative, at least for now. The show’s funniest work is Lynn Hershman Leeson’s Synthia, 2000–2002, which literalizes the hysterical market fluctuations on which financial speculation relies. A tiny monitor hangs from a chain in a bell jar, showing real-time market data and video clips of a woman in corresponding states of mind. I visited the gallery on a bad day for Wall Street, I guess: Mostly, Hershman’s character slumped on a couch drinking alone. There’s a surprising thread of humor to “Post-Speculation.” While the black walls remind us this is Ferguson October, they don’t dampen the prankish synergy between the works assembled.
In recent years, David Hockney has turned to the walkways around his studio in East Yorkshire, England, where he has set his latest series, “The Arrival of Spring.” Hung according to medium, it begins with stark black-and-white charcoal drawings, which are followed by a multiscreen video installation that depicts winter in all its severity. The series culminates in vivid prints drawn on an iPad, illustrating the verdancy of spring. Pathways center every work, with the exception of 4 May 2011, in which a large tree halts our perambulation in an overgrown field populated by wildflowers.
Though each work is titled by date, a sense of linear temporal progress is misleading as the iPad works were made a year before the black-and-white winter scenes. The titles announce this disparity, signally the way seasons structure memory. We imagine that we are moving toward spring, but in fact we turn out to be indulging reflections of years past. Spatiotemporal disorientation most commonly reminds of the human relationship to the urban geographical terrainthe flÔneur sauntering in Charles Baudelaire’s Paris or Guy Debord’s derive, an unplanned drifting while responding to psychological contours of the city. Hockney emphasizes our encounter with the pastoral landscape as more than ever distant and mediated by technology.
Calling attention to the haptic nature of drawing, technology highlights the tenuousness of the artist’s touch, being at once present and absent in the iPad prints. A parallel interplay with the embodied landscape occurs in Woldgate Woods, November 26th 2010, a point-of-view video installation in which nine screens present a snowy drive. Immersed in the blinding white of winter, slightly different camera angles allow the video to unfold as expansively as the drawings. Hockney manages to integrate different media and styles into a conceptual framework that invigorates landscape, a genre that too often struggles to be daring.
There’s a great tradition of garbage art, from Kurt Schwitters’s collage and assemblage works and the Situationists’ reconfigurations of trash culture to Rachel Harrison’s and Isa Genzken’s brilliantly mean-spirited monuments to the nastiness of late capitalism. And then there’s Dave Hardy, whose formal, poetic coordinates within this realm fall rather elegantly between Apollonian facture and unadulterated abjection.
Hardy’s primary materials for all six works in this exhibition are scavenged panels of glass and cast-off chunks of cheap, desiccated furniture foam (think the appointments of an especially low-budget porn or fittings of a local welfare office). The foam is dipped into cement and manipulated into lugubrious, voluptuous folds and fleshy mounds that call to mind both the contrapposto of classical figurative statuary and heaps of modernist sculpture gone to seed. Hardy’s materials are precariously leaned and balanced— connective supports being virtually absent, rather clever feats of engineering and careful uses of gravity keep these works hanging solidly together.
There’s also a pathos that imbues this family of sculptures—one can feel its spirit most acutely in the various bits of homely detritus embedded in the works’ surfaces. It’s in the dumb pretzel or shitty glue stick dangling from Destiny (all works 2014); the disused car lighter that was surely culled from some sad stripe of Honda circa 1982 (Lighghts); or that feeble erection of pink pencil jutting out of Cutout. It’s these seemingly off-the-cuff applications of little junk that heighten the vulnerability of these works, like knives into a fairy-tale beast, and cause the obdurate “thingness” of Hardy’s objects to melt here and there into moments of broken love and tenderness.
For all his achievements, for all his mastery, for all the support he has given younger sculptors, Mark di Suvero remains an infuriatingly undervalued American artist—and this despite the fact that the youthful eighty-one-year-old is the author of not one but two of perhaps the most visible artworks of the past decade. One is his remade Peace Tower, done in collaboration with Rirkrit Tiravanija and presented at the 2006 Whitney Biennial, in the trough of the Bush nightmare. The other is Joie de Vivre, 1998, the seventy-foot steel totem that formed the axis of Occupy Wall Street’s Zuccotti Park encampment.
Luney Breakout, 2013, the tour de force of his latest exhibition, climbs twenty-two feet, grazing the gallery’s vaulted ceiling, and, although it’s not painted, in many places its steel components have rusted to the artist’s beloved orange. Facing the sculpture frontally, the swooping curves supported by orthogonal legs seem anthropomorphic. Forty-five degrees away, the struts and curves resolve into a tangle of lines and planes. The plural forms of Luney Breakout shouldn’t surprise as for di Suvero, artmaking entails not purgation or disjunction but the synthesis of industrial rigor and winningly candid playfulness, of three-dimensional heft and lighter painting-in-space (the show also features two zippy paintings, as joyful as anything by Matisse), and indeed, of humanistic universality and unambiguous political antagonism—the last worn very publicly.
In an earlier moment of exclusionary judgment about sculpture, di Suvero’s open and promiscuous approach made him hard to pin down on one of Rosalind Krauss’s proscriptive diagrams. In our more capacious moment, it is easier to see such plurality for the triumph that it is—and at last to start to repay an artist we all owe so much.
The current, malign vogue for wearable gadgets could have panned out so much better if Nam June Paik were still around, there to remind us to interrogate, to laugh at, or to disrupt technology rather than accept it wholesale. His TV Bra for Living Sculpture, 1975, a pair of screens sported by a nude Charlotte Moorman, or TV Penis, 1972, a sort of television condom worn during a performance at The Kitchen, imbricated technology and the human body, but not into some cyborg third term. Even with his TV Cello, 1971, which Moorman played in a kind of carnal embrace, new media was used to enable new forms of human eroticism and potentialities, rather than to subordinate bodies to machines, or worse, corporations.
In this way, Paik—trained as a composer—might be much closer to Richard Wagner, the original tech-obsessed erotic mastermind of “the artwork of the future,” than to his alleged successors using tech for tech’s sake. This selective exhibition, the first in New York since Paik’s death in 2006, revalorizes Paik's sculptural works (notably the early radio-controlled assemblage Robot K-456, 1964) and reemphasizes his views of new media, which were, like Wagner’s, prescient but ultimately too romantic. Long before the rise of the Web, Paik saw television as not a one-to-many transmission, but a more plural affair in which individuals could intercede and reconstitute the mechanisms of broadcasting. Younger artists or anyone still naively confusing technology with progress would do well to heed Paik’s words from 1965: “Cybernated art is very important, but art for cybernated life is more important.”